PICKSINSIX Review: HAVING OUR SAY
COLLECTIVE MEMORY OF JOY AND SORROW
Sweeping narrative ... In the opening moments of Emily Mann's Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Bessie and Sadie Delany gather us up in the living room of the Mount Vernon, New York home they have lived in since 1957 and begin a conversation that takes us on the fantastic journey of their lives together. There are powerful resonant truths, sadness, and abundant humor in director Chuck Smith’s inspiring production, now playing at the Goodman Theatre. The consummate performances by Ella Joyce and Marie Thomas tell a sweeping narrative about racial inequality in America and overcoming adversity with grace and dignity.
A beehive of people … The year is 1993. The Delany Sisters - Bessie(Joyce), at 101 and Sadie(Thomas), at 103 - were 19 and 21 when Haley’s Comet streaked by in 1910. They saw it again in 1986. The two are delightfully entertaining together, finishing sentences and picking playfully at each other as siblings do. Sadie, who used a sort of beguiling charm to make her way through life, is balanced by the speak-your-mind activist that Bessie came to be. They learned discipline, manners, economics and the importance of education from their parents, and were surprised that their beloved father - who was born a slave and became the first African American Episcopal bishop - left out key parts of the Bible when he read it to them. Moving to New York City together in 1917, the sisters settled into ground-breaking professional careers and the pace and excitement of “a beehive of people” in Harlem. Nights were spent at Small’s Paradise associating with the likes of Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson and others.
Smith’s 25th season … Following a 1991 New York Times article by Amy Hill Hearth, the Delany story emerged in a book published in 1994. A year earlier, director Chuck Smith began a long and distinguished career with Goodman Theatre. Smith's unique and powerful storytelling vision allows Joyce and Thomas the full range to revel in the depth of the material, gliding through the fascinating dialogue as they prepare a special celebration to honor their father’s birthday. The Delany home feels richly intimate and familiar with Linda Buchanan’s magnificent turntable set design, striking costumes by Birgit Rattenborg Wise, Mike Tutaj’s stunning projection, and, sound and lights by John Culbert and Ray Nardelli.
Collective memory … Our lives are measured in milestones – birthdays, anniversaries, professional accomplishments – and yet it is our collective memory of joy and sorrow and the people who influenced and sustained us through those times, that truly matter. Lucky for us that the right questions were asked all those years ago and that someone was listening. If you are fortunate to have had a conversation already about family legacy and cultural heritage, you know how important that gift is from one generation to the next. If not, remember the Delanys had their say after turning 100, so it is never too late.
Help somebody … We will never know whether their presidential predictions for the future truly fell short, or what influence the 1991 article, book, play and film may have had on the course of events that followed. Either way, the secret to a long and satisfying life might best be summed up by Sadie’s advice that “your mission is to help somebody”... and to be sure your diet includes seven different vegetables a day, vitamins, yoga, a big meal at lunch, milkshakes ... and a lot of love.
HAVING OUR SAY
THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS
through June 10th
170 North Dearborn